FILE - Great Lakes Lake Superior

Waves crash on the rocky coast of Lake Superior at Michigan's Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in the Upper Peninsula.

Michigan legislators are seeking ways to assist property owners facing erosion and high water levels along the state’s Great Lakes shorelines.

The Michigan Senate this week passed Senate Bill 714, which was introduced by Sen. Roger Victory, R-Hudsonville. If it becomes law, the bill will allow municipalities and homeowners along shorelines to protect their property from erosion without first obtaining a permit when water levels become dangerously high.

According to the Michigan Department of the Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE), water levels in Michigan are the highest since 1986. Wave activity and heavy precipitation are causing erosion of properties that threaten houses and other buildings along the shorelines.

SB 714 would allow construction of emergency erosion preventative measures without a permit as long as the following criteria are met:

The structure is installed on shoreland of one of the following bodies of water when the level of that body of water is at least the following applicable distance above sea level: Lake Superior (603.1 feet); Lake Michigan (581.5 feet); Lake Huron (581.5 feet); Lake St. Clair (576.7 feet); and Lake Erie (573.8 feet). Additionally, the materials used for construction must be approved by EGLE, and a licensed contractor must perform the construction. 

Property owners would be required to either remove the structure or apply for a permit for a permanent structure within 78 weeks.

EGLE is opposed to the bill. The House Fiscal Agency estimates the agency will lose $2.1 million in annual revenue from permits.

Eric Tubbs, 60, owns property north of Port Sanilac, which has been in his family for more than 100 years. He told The Center Square he has witnessed wide fluctuations in Port Huron’s water levels throughout his lifetime.

“I’m pretty fortunate my house is built on a high bank,” he said, noting the lake is currently as high as he remembers it in 1986. “The water is absolutely higher, but if you live long enough you’ll witness a lot of highs and lows.”

“It wasn’t that long ago that Michigan was worried about low water levels,” he said. “Property owners at the time were worried about water diversions, and dredging the lake bed often became necessary for boaters and others wanted government to fix it.”

The Army Corps of Engineers water forecast notes current “water levels for February 14th on the Great Lakes and Lake St. Clair are all well above their long term monthly averages and are also above the average water levels observed on February 14, 2019. “

The forecast continues: “The February 14th forecasted water level on every lake, except Lake Ontario, is equal to or above the monthly average record high. Forecasted water levels on Lake Superior and Lake St. Clair show a 2 inch and 4 inch decline from a month ago, respectively.”

The forecast concludes: “Forecasted water levels on Lake Erie and Lake Ontario show a 5 inch and 4 inch rise from a month ago, respectively. The forecast for March 14th projects that Lake Superior will decline 1 inch, Lake Michigan-Huron will rise 1 inch, Lake St. Clair Erie will rise 2 inches, and both Lake St. Clair and Lake Ontario will rise 3 inches.”

The bill will now be considered by the House of Representatives.

Regional Editor

Bruce Walker is a regional editor at The Center Square. He previously worked as editor at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy’s MichiganScience magazine and The Heartland Institute’s InfoTech & Telecom News.